Coull Kirk stands at the south eastern edge of the Howe of Cromar, a bowl of lower lying land surrounded and sheltered by hills that has been farmed for thousands of years. Today the main settlement in the area is Tarland, just over two miles north west of Coull.
Christianity came to Coull when St Nathalan built a church here in the mid 600s. This was the first of a series of churches to occupy the same site.
The first written record of a church here occurs in 1188, when William I granted the income from the church to his newly-established Arbroath Abbey. The kirk you see today was built on the site of its predecessors in 1790, and restored in 1876.
The kirkyard at Coull offers an insight into the lives and deaths of many of those who lived in the area. The stones here are less rich in 1700s' symbology than those you find in some churchyards, but a particularly striking grave slab is that which commemorates James Midleton and his children and which dates back to 1751. This carries typical symbols of mortality of the day, including an hourglass and a skull: though the latter has been given a very unusual 3-D effect.
Not far from the gate leading into the kirkyard is a stone building with a turf roof that seems to grow out of the ground around it. At first sight it looks as if it might have been an ice house. It turns out to be a morthouse. Getting buried in Scotland in the early 1800s was a chancy business. Restrictions on the legitimate supply of corpses for academic research meant that graverobbing was rife. A number of countermeasures were adopted, morthouses being one of them. The one at Coull was built with walls 24 inches thick and a heavy door well protected by bolts and padlocks. The newly dead would be placed, in their coffins, in the morthouse for a period of six weeks: at which point they were unlikely to be of interest to graverobbers, and could be buried in the kirkyard.
Inside the morthouse are the fragments of a number of old gravestones. Future generations will look back on today's all too common mistreatment of old gravemarkers in much the same way we now view the activities of our ancestors who broke up Pictish symbol stones for use in field walls.
The observant visitor to Coull will notice a low mound some two hundred yards south of the kirk. This, and a few fragmentary remains of walls, are all that remain of the short-lived Coull Castle, built here in the mid 1200s and captured and demolished by Robert the Bruce in 1308.
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Grid Ref: NJ 512 024